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Published On: May 2, 2019|Categories: Treatment|

Individuals struggle in addiction treatment for many reasons. Sometimes, the main reason is because there is no affirmation or evidence of success. For a person who experiences multiple relapses or a stream of setbacks, it can be hard to have hope and look at recovery with optimism.

Positive reinforcement can help with that. If you’re struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s possible that celebrations for smaller victories can spur you on to greater successes. Read on to learn how positive reinforcement can help you get sober and stay sober.

What is positive reinforcement?

According to the American Psychological Association, positive reinforcement is defined as the practice of increasing the likelihood of a favorable behavior due to the behavior producing favorable results. When you’re learning about positive reinforcement, you may come across the term “operant conditioning.” Operant conditioning is the method of learning how behavior produces particular results.

Positive reinforcement is a framework used to modify behavior. It was first coined by psychologist B.F. Skinner, who postulated and proved that behavior can be changed through reward or punishment. In his studies, Skinner sought to change problem behaviors by targeting particular actions and then manipulating the consequences in order to change the behavior to a desired result.

A study published in the journal StatPearls states that positive reinforcement works better and faster than punishment. For this reason, positive reinforcement is often used in addiction treatment. Often, it is applied under the term “contingency management.”

What is contingency management?

Contingency management for substance use disorder treatment is a form of positive reinforcement. In this method of treatment, individuals in a rehab program receive rewards to reinforce staying sober. Many programs that implement contingency management use monetary incentives, such as vouchers that can be exchanged for goods or services, according to the journal Annual Review of Clinical Psychology.

There are studies to back up contingency management for substance use, too. The journal The Psychiatrist states that contingency management has proven to be an effective intervention that reduces the risk of relapse, improves attendance rates for mental health therapy, encourages appropriate usage of medication and even helps improve physical health.

So whether you’re talking about positive reinforcement, operant conditioning or contingency management, it’s clear that rewards in substance use disorder treatment can be an effective tool in changing behavior, and helping individuals break the chains of addiction.

How does positive reinforcement work?

Positive reinforcers are distributed to individuals who participate in treatment and reach milestones in recovery. For example, a person may receive a voucher for groceries after attending therapy regularly for one month, or tickets to a sports game after testing negative on a drug screening.

Positive reinforcements are not unreasonably extravagant, but they must be significant enough to offer a strong incentive to stay sober. These rewards must also be in line with a healthy lifestyle. It’s unlikely that you’ll receive cash or tickets to a concert where substance may be present. It’s more common to receive gift cards, movie tickets, gym memberships and the like.

Positive reinforcement works by creating achievable benchmarks that align with your treatment plan to offer a more tangible goal. In early recovery, the perks of sustained sobriety can seem so far off— positive reinforcement creates little victories along the way to keep you fueled when it’s hard to find motivation.

Why doesn’t punishment work?

It’s clear that positive reinforcement can be a useful tool in helping people achieve sobriety. Why, then, is punishment for substance use so prevalent? The answer to this question is complex and often political. Throughout history, individuals who have fallen into addiction are faced with jail, probation, fines, homelessness and unemployment.

While these consequences may inhibit substance use for a time, they don’t address the root of the problem. Punishment is ineffective because it attempts to fix a problem after the behavior has already occurred. Only professional treatment and positive reinforcement can prevent issues from occurring in the first place, and produce lasting results.

How can I get started with positive reinforcement?

In order to benefit from positive reinforcement, you first need to get started with professional treatment for your substance use disorder. If you’re not connected to a service provider already, check out Rehab After Work. Rehab After Work is an outpatient drug and alcohol rehab facility that offers flexible scheduling so you don’t have to sacrifice the important things in your life as you work to get sober.

You can take advantage of in-person or online treatment today. Call now to set up your first appointment.

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